I was interested to read Jonathan Smithers’ article (‘Ringmasters in the circus’). However, I think he missed the point. I agree that delays in the conveyancing process are not due to a lack of qualified practitioners; rather, they are caused by the ever increasing number of enquiries before contract which have no bearing on the quality of title offered.
These are often generated on a ‘tick-box’ basis by unqualified or scarcely qualified staff in conveyancing factories or practitioners’ offices.
Recently, I was told by one that enquiries had been drafted, but she could not submit them without approval of a manager who had just left on two weeks’ holiday.
The root cause seems to be the changed attitude of lenders following the property crash of the early 1990s. Generally, they would trawl files for evidence of errors, however small, on which they could hang a claim that their losses were not due to irresponsible lending but rather (say) to a lack of building regulations for a porch, leading to a lower than expected sale price on repossession and consequent loss.
The result? Risk-aversion backed up no doubt by insurers’ requirements. So we have more and more queries either about non-title matters or questions demonstrating a total lack of basic legal knowledge.
I do not doubt that it is important for a homeowner to know the whereabouts of the stopcock. What has this to do with conveyancing process? Equally, I do expect a conveyancer to know that on a sale by a surviving joint proprietor it is not necessary to obtain probate for the estate of the deceased proprietor.
All too often, even experienced practitioners cannot resist. My absolute favourite goes a bit like this: ‘It is observed that the consent of the water authority for discharge of roof water into its manhole has been granted on condition that the flow does not exceed 2.5 litres per second. Can you prove this is not being exceeded?’
Any client represented by him is indeed blessed.
Bryan Slater, Jarmans Solicitors, Sittingbourne, Kent